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Attacking abundance but defensively dire: Arsenal

Thursday 1st February 2018

The January transfer window has not been the depressing, soul-crushing period many jaded Arsenal fans anticipated. On the other hand, it hasn't been a complete success, either.

Supporters lost Alexis Sanchez but were crying for him to go. Gaining Henrikh Mkhitaryan in return was a pleasant surprise. More than rekindling the ostensibly long-buried tradition of straightforward 'swap deals', the deal had a certain romantic allure in the climate of incalculable money. Arsenal was able to find a suitable replacement for the superlative powers the Chilean possesses. 

The debate regarding who received the better deal, Manchester United or Arsenal, is irrelevant. This is a lost season. Winners and losers will only be revealed next season. Or the one following. What is more pressing, for Arsenal at least, is that Sanchez's exit did not leave a gaping hole. 

Next, in the continued spirit of refashioning Borussia Dortmund, circa 2013, Arsenal sought the service of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. After a tediously long-winded saga, which included Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud, they got their man. 

Sven Mislintat saw to that. Arsenal's new chief scout had previously worked at Dortmund and fostered a professional relationship with both Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. These two transfers have broken the mould set by Arsene Wenger. Mature rather than young promising talents are coming to the Emirates, suggesting the Frenchman's hold over transfers has weakened. 

The Gunners now have a bountiful [cough] arsenal of technically skilled attacking players. Alexandre Lacazette, although he has failed to strike a rhythm, is still a threatening striker. Mesut Ozil , rumoured to be signing a new contract, is a delightful player with envious vision. Mikhitaryan should thrive in the liberating style Wenger directs. Aubameyang, eager to prove a point after years of speculation linking him to Europe's elite, should bring deadly finishing and vibrant movement. 

Unfortunately for the attacking purist Wenger is (he once claimed he would like to play only one defender), winning football is balanced between defence and attack. Defending is just as, if not more, important. 

Pep Guardiola's rampaging unit might suggest otherwise, but a cursory look at their goals conceded tells you all you need to know. It is joint best in the league. Chelsea won the title last year on the back of steely defending. A team does not win anything without a stable back-line. 

Which leads us to the biggest problem now facing Wenger: the porous, permeable defence which constantly contrives to undermine his team's performance. Against Swansea, Petr Cech's howler gifted the relegation battlers the lead. Frail tackling mixed with lackadaisical marking allowed for Swansea's first and third. 

Depressingly for the Arsenal faithful, this is not a rare sight. Gooners encounter calamitous defending almost as frequently as the rest of us are deterred by red lights when late for work. That the side has conceded as many goals as cellar dwelling West Brom is the biggest indicator of its Achilles heel. Not that there weren't already giant neon signs pointing it out for all to see. 

Arsenal was rumoured to be close to signing Johnny Evans but that deal has fallen through. Had they purchased the ex-Manchester United man, or another defender, it would have completed an excellent window. Instead, failing to address the rearguard deficiencies leaves Arsenal's Champions League ambitions in a precarious position.

The summer recruitment drive must be focused on bringing in stable, reliable defenders, a competent goalkeeper, and a conventional but effective defensive mid. 

For all the attacking dazzle and glamour Wenger's men can produce, they have scored fewer goals than 'boring' Manchester United. Yet, while Wenger has focused on rectifying that his defence has become an insult to the term top club. Balance must be restored.

Michael Jones

Football & political writer with a predictable love of everything retro. English Literature undergraduate at the University of Exeter, looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. For a collection of my work, visit. http://mikejonesmedia.wordpress.com

Follow me on twitter: @jonesmichael_97


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